Ace Eat Serve’s Chef Opens a Fitness-oriented Cafe

Anyone who has dined at Ace Eat Serve in the past several years knows that chef Thach Tran has got the sauce. Tran’s dishes have always been compelling, from the recently debuted dim sum cart to his evolving menu of unique takes on Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese classics.

In December, he and his husband and business partner, Dustin Tran, opened Energy Bar in the lobby of the Colorado Athletic Club in the Tabor Center downtown. The cafe is separated from the workout area by an elegant, floor-to-ceiling water fountain and serves various coffee beverages, smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices, sweets, plates and grab-and-go items.

READ: Ace Eat Serve Debuts Brunch Dim Sum Cart and Asian Food Week Specials

“We always wanted to open our own coffee business,” said Thach, noting that the pair’s plans to open a trailer serving fresh-brewed joe pivoted into the cafe. “This falls very nicely into our collective skillset,” added Dustin. “We’re already kind of used to living our jobs. For us, it feels very natural.”

Dustin has also paid his restaurant dues, having worked much of his career in the front-of-house. He worked at Japango from 2011 to 2013, where he helped develop the spot’s now illustrious bar program. Since then, he’s lent his talents to Blue Sushi Sake Grill, TOKIO, Williams and Graham, Izakaya Ronin and Joy Hill. It was during his time at Blue that he met Thach.

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The food is decidedly different from Ace’s, with Thach and Dustin instead focusing on making classic cafe fare with a focus on health and nutrition. Though with the duo’s pedigree, the dishes can’t help but come out leagues ahead of typical athletic standards.

The cafe offers plenty of smoothie add-ons—the usual suspects like whey protein, blue spirulina and turmeric are joined by maca powder and a mushroom blend. The concoctions are crafted in collaboration with on-site smoothie chef Nicki Martinez, a formidable cook in his own right who used to work with Thach at ChoLon. Martinez continued on a fine-dining track, working for Charlie Trotter in Chicago before returning to Colorado.

The Purple Magic ($11) comes with blueberry, acai, cacao nib, banana, hemp seed, chia and oat milk and is the most popular aside from the Elvis Moves ($11), packed with banana, date, peanut butter, almond, honey and almond milk. A standard set of coffee and espresso beverages — courtesy of Huckleberry Roasters — are joined by a matcha cortado ($5) and the Saigon Express ($5), which blends Trung Nguyen coffee, sweetened condensed milk foam and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Savory dishes include the avocado toast ($6) — with Himalayan salt, thinly-sliced soft-boiled egg, everything bagel seasoning and a drizzle of olive oil and lime — and the Panino ($11), a fairly formidable post-workout bite stacked with salami, pepperoni, mortadella, giardiniera, mayo, olive oil and house-made Italian dressing. There are plans to adjust the menu seasonally and whimsically.

While Dustin and Thach say the clientele is largely gym guests, the food is worth seeking out regardless of exercise plans.

Energy Bar is located in the Colorado Athletic Club Tabor Center at 1201 16th St. Mall Suite 300, Denver. It is open Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

All photography courtesy of Thach Tran.

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